There’s no better time than the fall, the season of heading back to school and new fiscal-year possibility, to create new routines or recalibrate old ones.
As a successful entrepreneur, I use routine to set myself up for productivity. Routine is the key to maintaining focus on your goals and preventing yourself from falling prey to impulse and circumstance. Here’s what has worked for me:
1. Create an Exercise Routine
Regular physical activity is a nearly universal habit of successful people. It’s no wonder why, as exercise offers a host of benefits, from improving your mood and helping you sleep better to fighting stress and promoting a long, healthy life.
For years, I’d been in the habit of exercising first thing in the morning, but surgery to repair an old injury knocked me out of that habit. Now I’m working on my new exercise routine, which starts the night before. I set out my workout clothes by my bed and leave my bag by the garage door. When my alarm goes off, I don’t have to do any thinking at all — I just pull on what’s already laid out, grab my bag, and head to the car.
2. Create an Email Routine
When I return from my workout, I pour myself a coffee and go through the emails I received over the course of the previous night — but I don’t answer any of them. Not yet.
Instead, I head to the shower, where I do my best thinking. I let the emails burble around in my head as I devise responses and hatch plans. Sometimes the epiphanies I get in the shower are so good that I have to write them down — and to make that easy, I’ve installed a whiteboard and markers on the wall of my shower. (It works! Try it!) After my shower, once I’m dressed, it’s back to the laptop to tap out the replies.
Your system doesn’t have to involve a shower, but you do need some sort of routine to stay on top of all those new inbox arrivals.
For more expert career advice, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:
3. Create a Routine for Important Meetings
The worst feeling in business is standing up to pitch a client and realizing you haven’t adequately prepared. That’s why I’m a maniac for planning ahead.
The night before an important pitch session, I’ll think through everything. What am I going to say? How will I begin? What if the client has this or that question? I’ll even set out what I’m going to wear. I’ll print off the documents I need to review, place them in my briefcase, and set my briefcase by the garage door. The next morning, I’ll ensure I’m at the client’s office building a full hour before things start. By arriving early, I build in time to glance over my notes so that I’m ready to go by the time we’re in the conference room shaking hands.
4. Create a Productivity Routine
The biggest mistake you can make when you first sit down at your desk is trying to conquer the world. That only sets you up to accomplish absolutely nothing.
Instead, ask yourself: What are the three impactful tasks I can accomplish right now? They should be easy tasks that build up to a bigger win. Every day when I sit down at my desk, the first thing I do is get out my yellow sticky pad and write down three things I can accomplish within the hour. Once I’ve done those three things, the feeling of accomplishment powers me through the bigger tasks of the day.
5. Create a Routine to Evaluate Your Routines
No one is perfect, so allow yourself to make mistakes without giving up on routines. Instead, set up a time on a weekly basis — like Sunday after dinner — to examine how you’re doing. That Thursday when your 5:30 a.m. alarm rang out and you turned it off, rolled over, and slept until 7 — what exactly happened there? Did that routine failure have anything to do with the previous night’s late business meeting? Next time, let’s cut things off by 10 p.m.
In other words: Your routines need a feedback loop. Examine the instances you didn’t adhere to them, and then improve.
Many people dismiss routines as boring, the products of uncreative minds. That’s destructive thinking. The best routines are all about delivering simplicity to yourself to liberate you from temptation, impulse, and directionless inefficiency so you can focus on productivity.